Law School Student of the Year: Noelia Rivera-Calderon, Temple

Noelia Rivera-Calderon is a 3L at Temple University Beasley School of Law whose accomplishments and contributions to her field far exceed those of a typical law student. She is already a respected authority on significant aspects of education policy who has testified before a federal commission, presented original work at an international conference, and been tapped by a prestigious national non-profit to spearhead a major policy project. 

Her family moved from Puerto Rico to the states when she was a young child and settled in Philadelphia, where she was enrolled in a private elementary school for kindergarten. She did not yet speak English, and rather than supporting her as she learned a new language, the school often disciplined her for failing to follow the directions. She overcame this and other obstacles, demonstrating even as a young child the perseverance that has characterized her academic career, and by middle school she was one of three students selected citywide for admission to JR Masterman, a highly selective magnet school in the Philadelphia School District.

Her academic performance at Masterman earned her a full scholarship to Boston University, where she obtained a degree in social studies education. Rivera-Calderon then returned to Philadelphia, where she became an educator at Esperanza Academy Charter School, teaching social studies to seventh and eighth graders and mentoring new teachers.

Rivera-Calderon says that her passion for education policy is rooted in a desire to be the advocate for children that she needed as a student. In addition to her elementary school experiences, at Masterman Noelia was among many students who struggled with mental health issues, harassment, and a school climate that felt unsupportive of them as whole people. She became a teacher because she wanted to do better for students with similar challenges. After several years of teaching and mentoring, however, she came to realize that as much as she enjoyed being a teacher, if she wanted to influence education policy she would need to become a lawyer as well.

She came to law school to become a better advocate for children as they navigate our educational institutions. She has already accomplished that goal. During her time at Temple Law, Noelia has written and presented locally, nationally, and internationally on education policy, including testimony before the Federal Commission on School Safety about harmful school policing and a presentation on school discipline reform at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association in Toronto.

Rivera-Calderon has also taken a leadership role in an important project at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), where she serves as a legal intern through Temple’s Law and Public Policy Program. The project is focused on mental health concerns among Latina and Latinx students in middle and high school, who are statistically at much greater risk for suicide than their peers: half report persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness over the past year, and one in four report suicidal ideation during that time. Noelia has been tasked with managing the project, from research that includes meeting with Philadelphia students during after-school programs to producing a report that will include policy recommendations for better support of these critically vulnerable children

She has managed all of this while maintaining a GPA that places her near the top 10 percent of her class and serving as program director for the School Discipline Advocacy Service (SDAS), an organization through which law students act as advocates for Philadelphia K-12 students in school disciplinary proceedings.